Wed, 25 November 2015
(Dn.6:12-28; Dn.3:59,68-74; Lk.21:20-28)
“Your ransom is near at hand.”
“He is a deliverer and savior, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth.” And as “He delivered Daniel from the lions’ power,” so He shall save our souls from the destruction to come upon the face of the earth.
The king’s prayer is answered: “To Daniel he said, ‘May your God whom you serve so constantly, save you.’” And when the lions’ mouths are closed because of David’s innocence before God and men, Darius in awe of the living God writes to the nations that the kingdom of the God of Daniel “shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be without end.” Another pagan king is brought to his knees in truth… “Praise and exalt Him above all forever”! Indeed, “let the earth bless the Lord.”
But it is deliverance which is our theme today. Daniel is delivered from certain death in the lions’ den, and our Lord speaks to us of the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the end of time – “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” – and of our means of escape from annihilation. Yes, we must flee the devastation that is near, flee to the mountains from the midst of the city, not linger behind in the land of Sodom as the angel comes to guide us to safety. Indeed, we must lift our heads to the sky even as its powers are shaken and all comes crashing to the ground but the strength of our God. For on that Day He will be made manifest, and on that Day, if we “stand up straight,” our deliverance from sin and the powers of this world will be joyously known by our eternal souls. And we shall celebrate as did the king and Daniel upon the holy man’s removal from the lion’s den – and we shall praise the Almighty’s name with “nights and days,” with “lightnings and clouds,” with all the elements of the Lord’s universe. Alleluia!
Fear not, brothers and sisters, “in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth.” Even as you are called, so you must be – to be “clever as snakes and innocent as doves” (Mt.10:16). Follow the saints’ examples in simple obedience to the Shepherd’s voice and, harboring no ill will toward your persecutors, be prepared to lay down your life if it be in the Lord’s will, knowing full well that He will rescue you.*
* For this final thought I credit St. John Chrysostom and his wisdom, as found in this morning's Office of Readings.
O LORD, you are coming with great power and glory –
praise your holy NAME!
YHWH, we need not fear that the lion’s mouth will close upon us. Though the heavens be shaken and darkness cover the land, with your Son we may stand tall. Anticipation of His coming, joy at the salvation He brings – the eternal peace that follows in His wake – will keep us strong on the Day of judgment. From the den of the lion we shall be freed.
The end must come, we know, O LORD. All these things must pass away. May we stand in innocence before you on that day, and so live with you forever in your kingdom. In this city let us not desire to remain, but with your Son let us fly to Heaven.
O LORD, let all hearts turn to you before that great and terrible Day; let even the kings of this world recognize you as the one true God. Send your angels throughout the earth to work your wonders and save all holy souls from destruction.
Wed, 4 November 2015
(Rm.14:7-12; Ps.27:1,4,13-14; Lk.15:1-10)
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Since “every one of us will have to give an account of himself before God,” who are we to “sit in judgment” or “look down on” a brother? Why are our eyes set upon others’ sins instead of the Lord’s glory? Why do we fall into this pit of condemnation?
Yes, Jesus welcomes sinners. For this has He come. How blessed are we that He makes such “a diligent search” to retrieve our souls from the grave of sin; how blessed are we when He finds us and puts us “on His shoulders in jubilation.” In this forgiveness should we glory. In this grace we should praise the Lord, and seek to help others come to such blessing. But do we blind ourselves to the grace at work in our souls by setting our sights on the sins of others rather than the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ? Are we as judgmental as the Pharisees and as those Paul warns today against condemnation of others?
Brothers and sisters, we should rather be with David in his psalm and seek “to dwell in the house of the Lord” forever, and set our “gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate His temple”; we must not let our sights fall from heaven to earth and so lose ourselves in the judgment of others’ sin. This is the great danger. This is the devil’s temptation: “Look at him,” he says, “see how evil he is.” If he cannot get us to believe it about ourselves and so lose hope of redemption for our souls, he attempts to distract us with the sins of others, and so achieve the same ends. We must realize that “both in life and death we are the Lord’s,” that He loves us and desires our salvation, and that He loves and desires the salvation of all our neighbors. And so we must come to Him, take refuge in Him and in His love and forgiveness, and then we will “see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living” and not die a miserable death.
Brothers and sisters, let each of us be that “repentant sinner” over whom the angels of God rejoice. The Lord welcomes us though we are sinners. Let us not forget His grace. And let us welcome others.
O LORD, let me be that one repentant sinner
you find and place upon your shoulders –
come to me even this day.
YHWH, it is your great joy to see the repentance of the sinner, and so your Son has come among us to invite us to such grace. And if we are your friends, will we not rejoice with you? If all of Heaven rejoices at the conversion of the poor lost sinner, we show ourselves not to be of you, not to be of Heaven, if instead we look down upon our brother. O save us from such a miserable fate!
We all must bend the knee before your Son; we all shall have to appear before your judgment seat and give an account of our lives. And is any of us without sin, except your Son’s dear Mother? Then we must know that to dwell in your House, to contemplate your face, we all require your blessed forgiveness, LORD, that without it we will be left standing outside your gates. And so, let us praise you for your goodness to us, and to others. Let all souls be found rejoicing in your kingdom.
Wed, 28 October 2015
(Rm.8:31-39; Ps.109:21-22,26-27,30-31; Lk.13:31-35)
“For your sake we are being slain all the day long.”
And yet, “in all this we are more than conquerors because of Him who has loved us.”
We die. Each day we die, we sacrifice our lives. We are “as sheep to be slaughtered.” This is our call, to be as our Lord who was crucified – our King wears a crown of thorns. And yet in all this apparent weakness, in all those places where violence seems to reign, where death presumes dominion over us… it is void. It has no power. For God holds all the world in His creating hand, and He watches over us. So, indeed, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” If God fights for us, how shall we be conquered? We shall not, we cannot. “Christ Jesus, who died or rather was raised up… intercedes for us.” And so the death He suffered, which led only to life, becomes our own, and only life is ours in Him.
The Lord would gather all His “children together, as a mother bird collects her young under her wing,” but so many refuse. So many are disobedient. So many desire not the love of God. And so, death comes. Because of our sin, Jesus must suffer, Jesus must die. And we must die with Him if we are to follow Him through this world of darkness and sin into the kingdom of light. For the emptiness of the power of this world must be exposed. It must be shown for the nothingness it is. And only by dying does this become clear to our minds.
And so, Jesus does not shy away from death; He does not save Himself from its clutches. Freely He offers Himself for our sakes, that we might overcome the fear it produces in our fallen souls, that we might then be raised from darkness to light. The prayer of David is the prayer of Christ, standing in our stead, “I am wretched and poor, and my heart is pierced within me.” The sword, which has no power over Him, nor over us now, He accepts in His side that new life might flow out from His broken flesh. The suffering which should be our own He takes and nails to the cross. And it is dead. And the power of Satan is nullified. And in His “generous kindness” the Lord has rescued us. And so as we suffer now with Him all the temptations of this earthly life, our heavenly king is by our side breathing upon us new life. Let us have no fear for any presumed power of this universe; the Lord is greater than them all.
O LORD, you will save us
from all trial and persecution –
YHWH, by the love of Christ we have been saved, and nothing can separate us from that love. Though Satan persecute us, though the kings of this earth seek to destroy us, yet we shall live in your only Son who, though He died, was raised up and sits now at your right hand interceding for us this day. And so, what need we fear?
To His death Jesus went, freely and without fear. In Jerusalem He was slain like all of the prophets. Yes, the walls of Jerusalem were torn down and the temple abandoned. But in His resurrection the true Temple is rebuilt, and to the holy City we are now drawn. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of your Son! Blessed are you, dear God, who desire so earnestly to justify our poor, broken souls.
And so, now that Jesus has died for our sakes, we shall not be condemned. We shall conquer all sword and danger in His love. Praise you for your kindness, LORD! You have heard our cries.
Fri, 23 October 2015
(Rm.8:1-11; Ps.24:1-6; Lk.13:1-9)
“You will all come to the same end unless you reform.”
We hear again today in our readings of the distinction between those who are of the flesh, and so of sin, and those who are of the spirit and justice. And since “the tendency of the flesh is toward death but that of the spirit toward life and peace,” rightly does Jesus warn us that we will die in our sin if we do not repent and turn to Him. For indeed He and the Father, with the Spirit, are of life and have nothing to do with death, with sin.
Paul continues to make clear the difference, the separation, between those of flesh and those of spirit, and continues to encourage his reader to allow the body to die that the spirit might live: “If Christ is in you, the body is indeed dead because of sin, while the spirit lives because of justice.” It is in Jesus that our salvation from sin has come, for when “God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, thereby condemning sin in the flesh,” He made it possible for us to live no longer “according to the flesh,” but “according to the spirit,” for we know that “He who raised Christ from the dead will bring [our] mortal bodies to life also through His Spirit.” Even now His Spirit brings our spirit to life, and on the last day our flesh shall also be joined to Him in heaven.
David’s psalm questions, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who can stand in His holy place?” Only those “whose hands are sinless… shall receive a blessing from the Lord,” and so, again, we must turn to Him, we must be of “the race that seeks for Him.” “The Lord’s are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it” are of Him. But how our hearts have turned from Him in sin, and so, how shaken we have become, inviting death into our lives. And so only those who renounce their sin, who come by the power of the Spirit and the grace of Jesus’ blood, shall attain to His presence. And only those who bear fruit in His Name will He preserve.
The end of our gospel makes clear that there must be fruit in our lives, brothers and sisters. This is indeed the sign that we are of the spirit – if we “bear fruit” in the Spirit. We cannot claim to be of the spirit and bear the fruit of the flesh, which is sin. Jesus will not fail to recognize the difference, however much we may fool ourselves or others. We will die in the flesh like any sinner if we do not live according to Christ and His Word.
O LORD, let us be dead to the flesh
that we might bear fruit in the Spirit of Christ!
YHWH, let your Spirit dwell in us that we might conquer the flesh and bear fruit in your holy NAME. How shall we be holy as you are holy, how shall we stand in your holy place, if your Spirit is not with us? Fulfill our desire to see your face!
Your Son came and walked amongst us for three years, seeking fruit upon this fig tree. Upon His death and resurrection He sent the Spirit forth to nourish the Church that we might perform works worthy of Heaven. O LORD, help us to repent of our sin and reform our lives in the image of your Son.
Jesus has indeed condemned sin in the flesh that what is mortal might be redeemed and come to life in the Spirit, that we might be free from the law of sin and death by which all creatures are justly condemned and come to dwell in the peace of your presence. LORD God, may the Spirit of Christ make us worthy to stand in your sight.
Tue, 13 October 2015
(Rm.2:1-11; Ps.62:2-3,6-7,9,13; Lk.11:42-46)
“Your hard and impenitent heart
is storing up retribution for that day of wrath
when the just judgment of God will be revealed.”
“He will repay every man for what he has done… Yes, affliction and anguish will come upon every man who has done evil… But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who has done good.” This is the just judgment, and it comes only from God, not from sinful man.
And so we are chastised in preparation for that day, that of His wrath we may be spared. We should all wish to be “insult”ed by Jesus as are the Pharisees and lawyers in today’s gospel, here, today, while there is still time. We should all desire His difficult words of instruction which would serve, if heeded humbly, to separate us from the sins of the world, the attachments of this life that cling to our soul and prevent our coming into His presence. Under His mighty hand we should all subject ourselves, that He might lighten our “impossible burdens,” that He might take from us all that is not holy, all that is not true – that we might be freed from the judgment upon our souls and walk with Him in immortality. We must be ready for His day. But as it is the darkness is with us.
“Only in God is my soul at rest.” With David we must sing this truth from our hearts. The emptiness of the flesh and its imagination must not possess us; vain pride must take no place in our lives… All our lusts must be set aside and we must know with certainty that only in God do we find our peace: He is our refuge and our strength. “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold,” we must cry, and “trust in Him at all times,” or wandering from the truth we will find ourselves in the way of destruction.
“God’s kindness is an invitation to you to repent.” In His patience He gives you time to turn from sin and find His grace and mercy. Pray He will convict you of your sin in this time and you will not convict yourself by your judgment of others. Seek His redeeming hand at work in your life and do the good before Him. Then you “shall not be disturbed,” when His Word has taken root in your soul, when you have left behind all the vanity of this world. Then the glory of God will be your own, and nothing shall remove it from you. Soften your heart to His blessed chastisement; it shall work for you against the day of judgment.
O LORD, we will be judged by what we do,
and by what we fail to do –
let us set our hearts on you alone.
YHWH, let us not fall into judgment of others but treasure rather your Son’s chastisement of our souls, that we might find freedom from our sins and take our refuge in you alone. Soon your just judgment will be revealed; let us benefit from your kindness and take this time to repent, lest we be condemned on your day of wrath.
Your love, O God, is shown in the call to repentance you make to all your children, the Jew first, then the Gentile. You indeed chastise every son whom you love. And so Jesus proclaims great woe upon the Pharisees, hoping to turn them from their wicked ways; and so St. Paul makes known to us our hard and impenitent hearts, that from the punishment they invite we might be spared.
While there is time, O LORD, while your grace and mercy are yet being offered forth, let us place our trust in you alone, and so find rest for our souls in your eternal glory.
Thu, 24 September 2015
(Hg.1:15-2:9; Ps.43:1-5; Lk.9:18-22)
“Greater will be the future glory of this house
than the former, says the Lord of hosts.”
“Take courage… and work! For I am with you,” the Lord says through the prophet Haggai to the remnant of the people returned from exile as they prepare to rebuild the temple. “My spirit continues in your midst; do not fear!” Of course, we know these words of encouragement are eternal, even as we know that “the future glory” of the temple prophesied by Haggai refers ultimately to the Kingdom Christ now builds for us with His Father in heaven, and in whose construction we participate to this day. For Jesus is the Temple not made by human hands, and we are His Body here on earth, raising the walls of this holy place.
“And in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts!” In the former temple, that which relied upon human hands for its construction and could thus be destroyed also by human hands, the peace was necessarily passing. Though the Lord remained present to His people, the temple in which they dwelt, in which they worshiped, was only temporary. The future Temple which holds the glory of God come to fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, to which He leads us and which is, in fact, the Lord Himself – to this Temple there is no end, and its peace is everlasting. There we shall worship eternally.
And this Temple is present to us now; Jesus is in our midst this day, in His Church, in His Sacraments, with His Spirit, in the Word. And we learn from the Lord in our gospel today the way that leads to its realization. Yes, the apostles, in the person of Peter, recognize that Jesus is “the Messiah of God”; but not yet is it to be declared. There are first “many sufferings” He must endure. Indeed, He must “be put to death” before being “raised up on the third day.” In the same manner we have much to endure in this world, filling up what is lacking of His suffering, before we come into the eternal glory of His resurrection. We shall “go in to the altar of God” and give Him “thanks upon the harp.” He shall receive our song of joy, as in measure He does this day. In fullness we shall know Him. And so, here as we travel toward Him, as we pass through our time of mourning, let us pray with our psalmist:
“Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling place…”
(where His glory shall be great).
O LORD, you are the Most High God –
let us enter your House with praise!
YHWH, you are with us, always with us, dearest LORD, and you call us to be with you; you promise us peace in your holy Temple. And your Temple has come into our midst. He has suffered and died for our sakes and been raised on the third day. Now we must suffer with Him, we must do His work in this world, the work of building up His Temple… and soon we will come to dwell with Him in your eternal presence in your dwelling place.
O LORD, take away our mourning for what we do not have, for the lack of your glory among us. Let us remember that Jesus is the Messiah, that though we be surrounded by darkness this day, His light is with us leading us forth to your kingdom, which even now is indeed being built up in your Church, in all those who work in His Name. To greater glory bring us each day till your promise is fulfilled and we dwell in your presence forever.
Wed, 16 September 2015
(1Tm.4:12-16; Ps.111:2,7-10; Lk.7:36-50)
“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
prudent are all who live by it.”
If “the works of His hands are faithful and just,” as His children living in His Word and as His image, we must “be a continuing example of love, faith, and purity.” If we do not attend to this duty, “so that everyone may see [our] progress,” how shall we “bring to salvation [ourselves] and all who hear [us]”? Our love of Him must shine forth in all we do.
And what is the fear of the Lord spoken of in our psalm but the love shown by the woman in our gospel? As she stands behind Jesus, what is she but fearful, what is she but filled with love? This passage teaches us what fear of the Lord truly is, and what it isn’t. Certainly she is struck to the heart. Certainly in the presence of such purity she is convicted of her lust; certainly in the presence of such faith she is convicted of her lack thereof. But if she were fearful as the world understands the word, would she presume to touch Him? If she thought He might strike her to the ground, would she wipe His feet “with her hair, kissing them and perfuming them with oil”? No, she would die where she stands. But as it is her tears are sweet, for she knows the forgiveness He holds for her in His sacred hands.
This is the fear of the Lord we all must have; it is this which is the beginning of wisdom. We must be convicted of our sins, yes; but at the same moment we must be filled with the overwhelming love of our God. The two go hand in hand, and it is the practice of this fear of God in love of Him and neighbor that is the fulfillment of our duty before Him, that will keep us as a holy example of His presence in the world. The Pharisee in our gospel lacks this holy fear. First of all, he does not see his sin, and so he is not moved to love. Failing to view himself in the light of the One present before him, he fails to find the grace that is the knowledge of our sins – and so he is not moved to love, and so he does not find forgiveness.
Let us not love little, brothers and sisters, for this would not be wise. Failing to live in holy fear of the Lord, we shorten His hand’s working in our lives. May we ever, by His grace, be convicted of our sins, and so turn to Him in love to find forgiveness. We will do this only if we remain ever in His presence, bowed at His sacred feet. Amen.
O LORD, in your House let us make our home
and to us you will be known.
YHWH, may you receive due glory from all souls, we pray. May all bless your holy NAME with songs of praise in your Temple. May all recognize that you are the God of all and that Jesus is your only Son, and so may all rebuild their broken souls by the grace that comes through Him. O let us all put you first in our lives! as you deserve.
It is our joy to praise you, LORD, to recognize your glory in our midst and so join in that glory you offer through your Christ. Without you, what are our lives worth? We remain hungry despite the food on our tables; we remain naked despite the clothing on our backs – we remain empty and poor despite the riches we gather if we remain apart from you in our paneled houses.
O let us set our hearts on serving you, on humbly coming before you as your sons, dear God, and we shall exult in glory.
Wed, 9 September 2015
(Col.3:12-17; Ps.150:1-6; Lk.6:27-38)
“Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action,
do it in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
“Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.” Such is our speech and action when dedicated to God. Our lives indeed become a symphony of His grace when we “let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in [us].” The “blast of the trumpet… with lyre and harp… with timbrel and dance… with strings and pipe… with sounding of cymbals,” which our psalm exhorts in praise of God, are the litany of virtues we are called in both our first reading and our gospel to practice with our Christian lives.
Paul conducts us to “clothe [our]selves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” He invokes “Christ’s peace,” “thankfulness,” and “wisdom made perfect” upon us, and states: “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect,” making love the key to this hymn we sing and play with our lives, the note to which we continually return and which is ever present at the heart of our melody. And what a perfectly marvelous, heavenly song this is when sung in sincerity and truth.
The sincerity and truth to which we are called is made unmistakable in the Lord’s teaching in our gospel. Here we have the greatest challenge to our virtue of love, and its greatest moment. Here the magnum opus is sounded. Jesus has for us a litany of virtues Himself: “Be compassionate… do not judge… do not condemn… pardon… give,” and assures us that “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” will be ours if we live by His word. But the love which is the sum of all virtues is most poignantly accentuated in the command which sets the Lord and His grace apart from all others and their teachings, which makes Him so clearly the Son of God. “To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies,” He proclaims to His disciples, and then makes explicit the call to a Christian life: “Do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you, and pray for those who maltreat you.” And more specifically, “When someone slaps you on the cheek, turn and give him the other; when someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well.” Who can hear these words? Who can heed these commands? Who can live them in speech and action, as has our Lord upon the cross? It is this sacrifice of love to which we are called, and only this will raise our song unto heaven. We must act always out of love.
O LORD, how shall we love as you who are Most High
when we cannot even love as humans? –
if we really are your chosen ones
we will die on the Cross with Jesus.
YHWH, let us praise you with all our lives; may all our words and all our actions be a song of praise to you. Christ’s peace reigning in our hearts, help us to love one another, even our enemies, forgiving any wrong done to us and praying for the salvation of all souls. As Jesus let us be in our compassion, desiring never to see others condemned but hoping always for their conversion in your blessed mercy. Then our song shall reach to you and the angels will shower your graces upon us.
To what great love you call us, LORD! to be even as your only Son, even as you are in your infinite mercy. If we could but hear your call, if we but answered Jesus’ instruction with the sacrifice it entails, how blessed we would be? Help us to lay down our lives with Him, even for those who kill us. Alleluia!
Thu, 3 September 2015
(Col.1:15-20; Ps.100:1-5; Lk.5:33-39)
“New wine should be poured into fresh skins.”
“The blood of His cross” is poured forth for us; it becomes the new wine we drink this day, that which makes us new men by its grace. The scribes and Pharisees refuse this new wine, saying, “I find the old wine better,” so they cannot see “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creatures,” standing before them this day. Do we see Him? Do we hear His teaching? Do we allow His Word and His presence to be poured into us? Do we make ourselves “fresh skins” to receive the wine that is the Lord? Or do we, too, prefer the old? The old man under the burden of sin and death must be put away before the new man of grace and life can enter in.
“In Him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible.” Paul tells us Jesus fills all the universe with His presence, for “all were created through Him and for Him. He is before all else that is,” and “in Him everything continues in being.” He is the source of life and life itself. And He is “head of the body, the Church.” “Firstborn of the dead,” primacy indeed is His “in everything.” First to be born, first to die, He is also the first to be raised to new life… and by His power we are all raised to the new life we now find through His sacrifice. The blood which fills the universe must now fill our beings; we must be filled with His presence, for only by Him does grace come. Only by Him is the Law fulfilled, the Word made real, and the life of heaven become our own.
And those who are present to Him, those who are present with Him – those who are filled with His Spirit cannot help but rejoice. The disciples could not fast while Jesus was with them, while the bridegroom to whom they wed themselves was in their midst, and likewise those who come into the presence of the Lord cannot come but with joy. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving,” our psalm declares. “Know that the Lord is God; He made us, His we are.” And as we enter into the blessed Body and Blood of Christ, as we come to know the bridegroom of our soul… as His Spirit fills us what can we do but rejoice in the Lord, “whose kindness endures forever,” who makes us as His own – who redeems our very souls. Make room for Him in your hearts. There let His blood flow, that you might have new life.
O LORD, with you we are called to dwell –
let us rejoice!
YHWH, absolute fullness resides in your Son, through whom you made the universe and through whose blood you reconcile all things. He is your very image, and He calls us all to enter your gates through Him, that we might rejoice forever in your kingdom.
Jesus is the Bridegroom to whom we must be wed if we are to come into your presence and see the face of the One who made us. His blood is the new wine poured out for our sakes, that which will unite us with Him as we come with pure hearts, with new wineskins, to Holy Communion. O let us receive Him well, LORD! that we might be filled with the grace He offers forth.
You call us to sing joyfully before you, LORD, in the wedding feast of Heaven. May we be your faithful flock, gratefully accepting the love that comes to us only through your firstborn Son.
Wed, 19 August 2015
(Jgs.11:29-39; Ps.40:5,7-10; Mt.22:1-14)
“You have made a vow to the Lord.
Do with me as you have vowed.”
As with the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is blessed not so much for giving birth to Jesus – or consecrating herself to God as a virgin – as for hearing and doing the word of God, being the handmaiden of the Lord extraordinaire… so the Lord delights not in “sacrifice and oblation,” per se, but in “ears open to obedience.” In accepting the sacrifice of her fertility (the greatest sacrifice a woman could make, though it may be difficult to realize in these days of abortion and contraception), Jephthah’s daughter demonstrates the obedience required of all the redeemed.
“Happy the man who makes the Lord his trust; who turns not to idolatry or to those who stray after falsehood,” David proclaims in our psalm today. “The spirit of the Lord” upon him, Jephthah defeats severely the Ammonites, a nation which practiced the sacrifice of their children to their god, Molech. The Lord thus shows disdain for them and their ways. Thus also it should be evident that Jephthah would not do in the spirit of the Lord that which is directly opposed to His will. The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter is of her fertility – it is her virginity she mourns and not her death. And Jephthah maintains his vow by consecrating her wholly to God, knowing that his generation will cease, since he has no other sons and daughters to bear his name, and thus making a great sacrifice himself. If it were her life itself he offers God, he would be no better than those he destroyed and certainly no son of Abraham, who was taught the truth against such sacrifice so many years before.
This aside, we turn to our gospel. It is clear that Jesus is telling the chief priests and elders of the people that they do not have the obedience required of the redeemed. “In the written scroll it is prescribed” that all must do the will of God, but these who know the Scriptures so well, know nothing of them at all… and so the Word goes out to draw the whole world into the kingdom prepared by God. But to these, too, Jesus has a warning: “The invited are many, the elect are few.” If we are “not properly dressed for a wedding feast,” if we have not aligned our lives with the will of God, we too shall be thrown “out into the night” with the man who had to “wail and grind his teeth.” And this wailing shall not come as holy sacrifice unto the ears of God; it shall not demonstrate our obedience to Him, but rather be the inflicting of judgment upon our souls.
Let us be obedient to the will of God in all things, brothers and sisters. Let us hear His voice alone and follow where it leads.
O LORD, let us offer ourselves as a holocaust to you;
then we will be fit to enter your presence.
YHWH, how shall we give true worship to you and offer you the sacrifice you are due? Only complete obedience to your will shall bring us into your presence; it is our very lives you desire of us. For you know that only this will make us joyful – only union with you and your Son will fulfill the longing of our hearts.
To your wedding feast let us come, O LORD, and there let us remain, ever praising your glory with full voice, happy to be among those you have saved. And so, in purity let us come, single-hearted let us be, and we shall not be cast out into the night but live in your holy light.
Your Spirit you send upon those who call upon you, who devote themselves to your will. Let us fulfill our vows to you, LORD; let us turn from all idols and trust in you alone, and we shall be blessed forever in your House.
Mon, 10 August 2015
(Dt.31:1-8; Dt.32:3-4,7-9,12; Mt.18:1-5,10,12-14)
“It is the Lord who marches before you;
He will be with you and never fail or forsake you.”
“Do not fear or be dismayed,” little ones, the Lord is with us and watches over us. Just as it was He who led the Israelites into the Promised Land, so it is He who leads us now into His “heavenly reign.”
In our first reading the Israelites stand poised to attain that which they have been so long promised. Centuries after God’s call to Abraham and at the end of forty years wandering in the desert, the time has come for them to enter in and take possession of the land the Lord has set aside for them. As they look toward their heritage on the other side of the Jordan River, Moses encourages them: “It is the Lord, your God, who will cross before you.” “The Lord alone was their leader,” brothers and sisters; and now it is Jesus alone who shepherds us into the kingdom we look upon with bated breath, for which we patiently prepare ourselves. It is He who has crossed before us in His death and resurrection and now faithfully guides us into His Father’s reign.
And just as Moses commissions Joshua to lead the Israelites: “You must bring this people into the land which the Lord swore to their fathers He would give them,” encouraging him to be brave and trust in God… so Jesus commissions His disciples to lead His sheep, and especially those who are lost or straying, into the kingdom of God – encouraging them to remain humble always, to make themselves lowly like a little child. And His commission extends, of course, to us today; in these readings we hear His voice.
As for “these little ones” of whom Jesus tells us, “I assure you their angels in heaven constantly behold my Father’s face,” are we not they of whom He speaks? Are we not His innocent doves in need of the Church’s wisdom and guidance to find our place in the Lord’s kingdom? And certainly even those who lead the flock are members of the flock themselves, for ultimately it is always the Lord who leads, and all must come unto His presence. Let us be assured, little flock, let us take blessed comfort in the Lord’s care for His people. “It is no part of your heavenly Father’s plan that a single one of these little ones shall ever come to grief.” So let us be as children before Him, beholding the face of God. This is His will for all our souls; let us walk confidently with Him, knowing His love and His blood will never fail us. The kingdom awaits our coming.
O LORD, only as a child will we enter Heaven,
for only as a child can we stand in your presence.
YHWH, make us humble and innocent as little children that you might lead us by your mighty hand into the land you promise all your lowly ones. How shall we behold your face if we are not obedient to you, if we do not seek your glory by humbly doing your will? Bless your people with your presence.
Send us leaders, LORD, to guide us to your kingdom, to shepherd us to your holy mountain. Your power be upon those you send to stand in the place of your only Son, that all might find salvation. Help us to have faith in you, to know that as you have been with us until this day, so forever you will remain, destroying our enemies before us, setting us free from all sin.
Let none of your children be lost, dear LORD, but come quickly to their heritage in you. O let us be brave and steadfast! remembering ever it is you who go before us.
Sun, 2 August 2015
(Nm.11:4-15; Ps.81:2,12-17; Mt.14:13-21)
“Israel I would feed with the best of wheat.”
But the best of wheat they despise, and seek to satiate their appetite with meat. The blessed food from heaven, come from the hand of God, the Israelites soon grow tired of as they travel through the desert. Their stomachs cry out for earthly flesh. As our psalm tells us, the people “heard not” the voice of God but preferred “their own counsels,” so He “gave them up to the hardness of their hearts.” He will give them the meat they desire, and it will bring plague upon them for their lusts against God.
Yet the Lord ever continues to call His people, and in the presence of Jesus that call is fulfilled. In our gospel we see Jesus taking it upon Himself to feed the hungry masses, caring for their needs, and though some will seek to follow Him just to feed their bellies, others will recognize in His feeding of the five thousand the blessing of God’s providence and His loving care for His children; and their hearts will be open to partake of the spiritual food, the Body and Blood of Christ, which shall be offered forth at the table of the Lord after His death and resurrection. The sacrificial love of Jesus Christ will thus become their own as they unite with Him in flesh and blood, in word and deed – in partaking of the best of wheat. He is the food that sustains us.
The fragments left us in the twelve baskets come down to us this day through His twelve apostles and the Church founded by them in His Name. The fragments we find upon our altar today as our priest prays the blessing over them. And we are fed. And we have life. And we are kept from grumbling against the Lord for all that is not ours in this world, and all the vain things our hearts would otherwise desire… and we endure any suffering that comes to us on our pilgrimage to His Promised Land by the grace of the food offered forth through His holy sacrifice. And we thus become like Him.
If there were no food upon our table, if this sacrifice upon our altars were not the Body and Blood of Christ – if His presence were not real in this best of wheat, this holy manna – we would faint in the desert of this world and be consumed by our own lusts. But as it is the Lord provides the nourishment we need, and body and soul are kept alive even unto paradise.
Eat His Body and drink His Blood, brothers and sisters,
and you shall live in His paradise.
O LORD, let us not complain against your providence;
may we never harden our hearts
but come to your table and eat.
YHWH, how can we complain against you and your providence? Do we not see the food you give us to eat and the blessing it is for our lives? Why do we so easily harden our hearts?
And what does such rebelliousness do but cause us to be separated from you? What does it bring but our own death? To us you give even the flesh of your Son to eat, and yet we turn away from this finest of wheat. O LORD, what hope is there for souls as blind as we?
Your Son takes pity on our plight. He looks on us with healing grace. No need of ours would He leave unmet; yet will we come to His table to eat? O LORD, in His hands let us find our home! Let us trust in His blessing of our lives. Let us not be a burden to Him or His apostles, but join them in carrying your Bread to the world.
Sat, 20 June 2015
(Jb.38:1,8-11; Ps.107:23-26,28-31; 2Cor.5:14-17; Mk.4:35-41)
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Need you ask? If you must, I will tell you: this is He who “shut within the doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb”; He who “set limits for it and fastened the bars of its door” – He who speaks to Job: “Here shall your proud waves be stilled!” This is the Lord, the great I AM!
When the Lord “raised up a storm wind” against those “trading on the deep waters… which tossed its waves on high… their hearts melted away in their plight.” But “they cried to the Lord in their distress [and] from their straits He rescued them.” Is not He who “hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled,” the same God who in our gospel when the disciples cry out, “We are perishing,” because “a violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat” – is this not the same God who “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” by whose hand “the wind ceased and there was great calm”? The power is the same and the God is the same. Jesus is Lord!
And is it not this same God, this same Christ, who stills the waves of your own pride when its waters begin to fill your boat with sin, when it seems you shall sink into the deep and never return? Do you not know your sin? Do you not know His power? Is it not the Lord’s great power and the peace we find by its great grace of which Paul, too, speaks when he says, “The old things have passed away; behold, new things have come”? Is it not the same salvation he refers to when he declares, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation”?
Brothers and sisters, “Let us cross to the other side.” Let us allow the Lord to bring us “to [our] desired haven.” Through the tribulation of this life let us pass, impelled by “the love of Christ,” knowing He holds power over all the proud waves of the sinful sea in His redeeming Hand. Let Him but speak a word to our impenitent hearts to break the waves we raise up and make us whole.
“Do you not yet have faith?” Then indeed be dead in Christ and live “no longer for [yourselves] but for Him who for [our] sake died and was raised.” This is the Lord our God. Silence your tongue before Him.
Written, read & chanted, and produced by James Kurt.
Music: "The World Is a Work of Art (Made by the Hand of God)" (final section), from The Whole Whale, eighth album of Songs for Children of Light, by James Kurt.
O LORD, in you we find our peace,
for you created us,
and for our sake your Son died and was raised.
YHWH, what need we fear if we are already dead in your Christ? How could the proud waves of this world be a threat to him who has already reached his desired haven, who has already come to the opposite shore? The power of wind and sea mean nothing to the One who commands these and all other things, and it is He who is with us now.
O LORD, increase our faith in the salvation that is ours through the death and resurrection of your Son. Flesh now has no hold of Him, and so it should no longer trouble those who are reborn in Him. His life should be our own, and this life is unconquerable. O let us trust entirely in His love!
Though the waves do rise above our heads and threaten our boat with sinking, the Spirit of your Son is present to us to command the sea to be still. And so we shall sail peacefully into your kingdom, if we but remember His presence, if we but call on your NAME.
Fri, 29 May 2015
(Sir.51:12-20; Ps.19:8-11; Mk.11:27-33)
“When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom.
She came to me in her beauty,
and until the end I will cultivate her.”
Oh how Sirach speaks of his love, of the wisdom that is the light of his life! He is “resolutely devoted to her” and does “never weary of extolling her.” To his teacher he gives “grateful praise,” for he treasures her sweetness above all things.
“I will ask you a question. If you give me an answer, I will tell you on what authority I do the things I do.” So does wisdom speak. So does the Lord inquire as to what is in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees and priests. But there He does not find wisdom’s radiant beauty; there He finds nothing, for these leaders are so empty, so pitifully vain. Rightly do they say, “We do not know,” for there is no light in them – only the dark connivings of the world’s greed and pride.
And can wisdom answer him who has no ears? Can she speak to those who do not listen to her voice whispering in their souls? She does not engage in useless activity and cannot wed herself to those whose spirits are impure, whose hearts are not set on her fruits. “In cleanness I attained to her,” Sirach happily declares, for he “purified even the soles of [his] feet” to find her. But these men who weary so easily of her “great instruction,” who would so readily look upon the riches of this world, how can they taste her sweetness? How can they gaze upon her infinite beauty…?
And so the Lord turns away from them. He cannot tell them “on what authority [He] do[es] the things” they see displayed so powerfully before their eyes, for their eyes are blind and their hearts are turned against Him. They do not wish to know the answer to their question; they do not truly seek wisdom. And she does not come to those who do not desire “her secrets.”
“The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” In silence, in obedience, in humility and purity you will hear the Lord speaking. And He will guide you to all His grace; and His name alone you will bless and praise. What great profit you shall find if from your innocence you cultivate wisdom until the end of time.
O LORD, open our eyes and minds to your light,
that by the power of the Spirit
we might be formed by wisdom
into the image of your Son.
YHWH, send your wisdom upon us; let her make her home in us. May we be distracted by nothing of this world as we seek her diligently and with a whole heart. You will be faithful in giving her to us if it is she we truly desire.
The Pharisees could not know your wisdom, LORD, because your wisdom they did not really want. They cared only for their positions and their goods and what people would say or do to them, and not at all for the truth. And so the truth escaped them. Wisdom will settle in with none who do not have an open heart.
O LORD, we recognize the authority of your Son, that all wisdom and power are with Him; indeed, that He is your only Son. Let us delight in His words and give Him grateful praise for all He has taught and done for us. More precious than gold is the light He brings to our eyes and to our minds, and the love that through Him makes its home in our spirits.
Thu, 28 May 2015
(Sir.44:1,9-13; Ps.149:1-6,9; Mk.11:11-26)
“They are as though they had not lived,
they and their children after them.”
This line from Sirach could refer well to the Jewish nation symbolized by the fig tree “withered to its roots.” For “never again shall anyone eat of [its] fruits”; its temple now destroyed shall never be rebuilt. And yet Sirach speaks not of those who have perished in sin, and so are never to be known again in the sight of God, but of “godly men” of Jewish ancestry who, though “there is no memory” of the particulars of their actions in time – as there is with the great patriarchs and prophets of old – yet are of the race of those “whose virtues have not been forgotten”: the memory of their goodness lives on in the heart of God, and “through God’s covenant with them their family endures.”
The covenant is removed from the hands of the Jewish people. This is indicated clearly in our gospel today not only in the withered fig tree, but in Jesus’ driving out those who had made their station in His Father’s temple. These shall be replaced by the Lord’s appointed servants, and the Church shall be built where the temple once stood. But this does not mean that the godly deeds of the godly men under the covenant of old are forgotten now that the New Covenant has been instituted; nor does it mean those in His Church are beyond reproach.
Let us look more closely at the Lord’s interaction with the fig tree, for it can teach us much. First, Jesus “felt hungry” – He desires our souls. Then He saw “a fig tree some distance off” – far removed are we from His sacred presence. He is attracted by its “foliage” – it has the appearance of fruit and life. But “when He reached it He found it had nothing but leaves…” There is no fruit upon it to satisfy His hunger; and so for its uselessness He curses it to dust. As He has done with the faithless Jews, so will He do with the faithless among us.
But “it was not the time for figs,” you say, as if to justify your emptiness. My brothers, in the Lord’s kingdom it is always time for figs – we in His Church are ever called to bear fruit in His name, in season and out of season: our souls are required of us this very day. And if we satisfy not God’s hunger for our fruits of prayer and charity, if we too have polluted His house with acts of “buying and selling” instead of the worship demanded of us… if we have gilded the temple to attract the eye but are utterly barren within, what shall He say when He enters our temple area? What action shall He take against those who serve as thieves of His love? They shall indeed be blotted from His Book of Life.
But those who “put [their] trust in God,” those who serve Him in spirit and in truth, shall not be forgotten by the Lord, whether their names are known in this world or not. “For the Lord loves His people, and He adorns the lowly with victory.” It is not the “acclamations from the crowd” in which Jesus puts His heart, but in doing the will of God. And so all who are like Him shall secure with Him their place in heaven. “Let the children of Zion rejoice in their King,” for none “in the assembly of the faithful” is forgotten.
O LORD, let us trust in you and rejoice in you…
let us bear fruit in your NAME.
YHWH, we pray that we shall be remembered by you, that we shall not be cast out of your Temple for making it a den of thieves, for failing to worship you as we ought. Though we not be remembered by the world, though we perform no great deed worthy of history, yet let us find room in your memory, in your heart – in your Book of Life.
The humble you look upon with favor, LORD. The godly of any age you bless. You will not remove your favor from any who remain faithful to your Word. But those who abuse their power, who take for granted your grace upon their souls, these you cannot but cast from your presence as you overturn the tables in which they trust.
Let us bear fruit for you, dear LORD, fruit that will last unto Heaven. May our prayer be made in fidelity and sincerity that we may come to praise you in your kingdom with all those of holy heart. May our glory never be blotted out.
Wed, 27 May 2015
(Sir.42:15-25; Ps.33:2-9; Mk.10:46-52)
“As the rising sun is clear to all,
so the glory of the Lord fills all His works.”
“How beautiful are all His works! even to the spark and the fleeting vision!” “Can one ever see enough of their splendor?” Yet how blind is man to their glory! How much we need to receive the Lord’s vision.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made; by the breath of His mouth their host”; “at God’s word were His works brought into being.” And so, bathed in His grace what can heaven and earth be but a wonder to behold? Then why is it we see only darkness? Why are our eyes so blind to His presence in all the creatures He has made only for good? Is it not that we say “I see”? Is it not that we tell ourselves, “There. Now I have God in my hands. Now His ways I understand”?
My poor friends, you can never plumb the depths of God’s works, for “even God’s holy ones must fail in recounting the wonders of the Lord.” It is He alone who “plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart; [your] innermost being He understands.” And He sees as He looks into your soul that you are blind, that you do not see Him as He is… and He longs to call you up closer to Himself. “The Most High possesses all knowledge”: He remembers the past, He sees the future – the moment is in His hand. And you yourself He would hold in His hand and move according to His will, if only you would let Him.
Come to the Lord like the blind man you are; do not let the scolding of the world hinder your plea to His compassionate heart. “You have nothing whatever to fear from Him!” for He eternally asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” seeking always to grant you sight. Then when you feel His touch upon your eyes, be as Bartimaeus and “immediately… follow Him up the road.” For on that road your vision will ever be increased. On that road you will learn to “pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness”; you will share in His wisdom and wonder as you “sing to Him [your] new song.” On the road our Savior trod you will find “the strength to stand firm before His glory.”
Rise and walk with Him in faith this day. “He gathers the waters of the sea in a flask”; “not a single thing escapes Him” – and so He is certainly not blind to your needs. To His glory He calls you: shine with Him now more brightly than the sun.
O LORD, give us the vision to see
the beauty of all your works,
your presence in everything.
YHWH, how blind we are to your glory shining in our midst! How we fail to recognize Jesus on the road He travels to you. Why do we not cry out? Why do we hesitate to proclaim our blindness? Are our hearts not made for your glory?
No one can recount all your wonders, O LORD; we cannot penetrate the heart of all being. But if we but trust in you, if we but ascribe to you the awesome power and almighty wisdom that are yours alone, then the beauty of your works will become known even to our poor eyes… and we will be able to sing your praise with the stars and the sea and all you have created.
At your Word, by the Breath of your mouth, all was made: you spoke and it came to be. Let us but call out to your Son for pity, LORD, and the glory of your Creation we shall live and see.
Tue, 26 May 2015
(Sir.36:1,5-6,10-17; Ps.79:8-9,11,13; Mk.10:32-35)
“Take pity on your holy city,
Jerusalem, your dwelling place.”
The prayer of the wise man is good, but I see that the same answer the Lord gave James and John when they asked to sit “one at [His] right hand and the other at [His] left” in His glory, could be given to Sirach: “You do not know what you are asking.” For neither knows the implication of their request – neither can see that it will only be fulfilled in a painful death.
In our gospel Jesus is leading the disciples “on the road going up to Jerusalem,” a crowd following behind. There He will “fulfill the prophecies spoken in [His] name.” There He will “fill Zion with His majesty, [His] temple with [His] glory.” But the keepers of the keys of the temple “will condemn Him to death”; they will thereby destroy the Temple itself. In this way only will the “prophets be proved true.” In this way only He will “deliver us and pardon our sins.” In this way only will He “with [His] great power free those doomed to death.” For the prophets have said that the Servant must suffer. The prophets have said that the Son must die. There is no other way that “three days later He will rise.” There is no other way for Him to redeem those condemned to die.
This must sink into our hearts; this we must understand, we who run so freely from the cross, who think it is a facile thing to “inherit the land.” The Lord will indeed have pity on our souls; He will indeed answer “the prisoners’ sighing” and forget “the iniquities of the past.” But Heaven is attained only by those who drink from His cup; the glory of God is known only by those who share in Jesus’ “bath of pain.” No other way will we be cleansed of our sins. No other way will we be made ready. The cross is the path to the New Jerusalem, and we must walk it with our Lord.
And so, be not lazy about the work He has set before you; fail not to “serve the needs of all.” If you think of yourself and some vain reward, you will never find the blessing which awaits “those for whom it has been reserved.” His “compassion come[s] quickly to us” if we but share in His blood.
O LORD, your Son has come to die
that we might be freed from the death of sin;
on this path of sacrifice let us join Him.
YHWH, you are the eternal God. We are but sinful men. And so, how shall we come into your kingdom? Only by the bath of pain, only by drinking from the chalice of your Son – only by His death on the Cross.
He will be condemned to death. He will be spit upon and mocked. He will indeed be crucified. It is we who lead Him there, we who by our sin and selfishness push Him along the road to Calvary. O LORD, have mercy on our souls!
Hear our sighing in this dark prison; let us live in exile no more. Bring us back to your holy dwelling place… your glory may we somehow know. We call out to you from the ends of the earth, LORD; have compassion on our cries.
Your prophets will be proved true: your Servant will suffer a terrible death. Give us the courage to walk with Him, LORD, to share in the sacrifice He makes.